Syllabus           Resources


Journalism 772 and 472: Computer-Assisted Reporting

Ira Chinoy / Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland



Searchable vs. downloadable databases


The assignment that requires you to locate examples of Web sites useful to reporters calls for an example of a database that can be searched on the Web and an example of a database that can be downloaded from the Web.  Some sites offer one or the other, and some offer both.  Here are some examples.


An example of a site that offers both searchable and downloadable databases is the Federal Election Commission:

Ψ      There is a searchable database of individual campaign contributors here: . So, for example, if you plugged in Abramoff (Last name) and Jack (First name), you would find contributions from the lobbyist whose activities have been at the center of a widening set of political scandals.

Ψ       There are a variety of downloadable databases here:

o       There are files with large quantities of raw data on the donors and recipients of contributions for entire election cycles at .  These are “text” files which have to be downloaded and then imported into a program such as Microsoft Access for you to use them. 

o       The FEC also provides means to download subsets of records – such as the contributions to particular candidates – as Excel files.  For example, candidates for Congress from Maryland are here -- – and you can see an example of the records for a particular candidate here and export these records to Excel:

o       The FEC offers a tutorial on this process at:


Here are a few other examples to give you an idea of how to fulfill this part of the assignment:

Ψ      Searchable databases:

o       Medicare:  Compare nursing homes:

o       Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator:

o       Maryland Judiciary Case Search:

Ψ      Downloadable databases:

o       Microsoft Access files:

§         National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Database:

§         Medicare – data on nursing homes and other facilities:

o       Microsoft Excel files:

§         National Response Center database of spills: (large files).

o       DBF (Dbase) files: (These are in a format easily imported into MS ACCESS, or Excel if they are under 65,536 rows):

§         Federal Rail Administration – Office of Safety Analysis:

o       Mixed formats:  Text files (that can be imported to Access if you have documentation) or Excel files:

§         Internal Revenue Service – Tax Stats – Nonprofits, by state:,,id=97186,00.html


There is a class page with some other examples of data on the Web (primarily of the downloadable variety):  The bottom of that page also includes links to tip sheets and tutorials on importing data into Access and Excel from other sorts of data files, including text files, statistical software files and PDF files.